Review by Gordon Justesen
Stars: Orlando Bloom, Kirsten Dunst, Susan Sarandon, Alec Baldwin, Bruce
McGill, Judy Greer, Jessica Biel
Director: Cameron Crowe
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Surround, French Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Features: See Review
Length: 123 Minutes
Release Date: February 7, 2006
"Do you ever just think ‘I’m fooling everybody’?"
"You have no idea."
Writer/director Cameron Crowe has made another winning, heartfelt romantic character piece with Elizabethtown. With this film, Crowe mixes in the superb trademark elements that make his films so special; rich characters, grand storytelling and a fantastic rock music soundtrack, and creates one unforgettable journey that we take alongside the lead character.
Drew Baylor (Orlando Bloom) is facing the most humiliating moment of his life as the film opens. His professional life seems to be wrecked for good in the wake of a big corporate fiasco. Drew, a shoe designer, has been summoned to the top floor office of his boss/mentor, Phil (Alec Baldwin). As Drew points out, people are only sent to the top floor office for a promotion or otherwise. It's clear that he will not be receiving the former.
Drew’s fiasco was caused by his latest shoe design, which seemed like a good idea while in preparation but was such a bad sale that it’s cost the company $927 million, or as Drew sees it, nearly a billion dollars. Later that night, completely disgusted with himself, Drew contemplates suicide in a most unusual way; by duct-taping a knife onto an exercise machine. Just as he’s a second away from kicking the bucket, he gets a phone call of bad news. Drew’s father has just died.
Thus begins Drew’s, and our, journey. He has agreed to fly from Oregon to his father’s hometown of Elizabethtown, Kentucky. The main purpose of his visit is to sort out what to do with the remains. His father was the town’s most highly respected citizen. If he wasn’t related to anyone in the town’s population, he was easily a best friend. But Drew hasn’t forgotten his suicide plan; he intends on finishing it upon returning.
During the flight, Drew gets some unexpected companionship in the form of Claire Colburn (Kirsten Dunst), a plucky flight attendant who’s just looking for someone to talk to, as the flight is nearly vacant. After slight resisting, Drew gives into Claire’s charming ways. He opens up a bit about his dad, his reason for flying to Kentucky, and even a recent break up with a co-worker (Jessica Biel).
Claire rewards Drew for being a good flight companion by drawing him precise directions to Elizabethtown. It turns out, getting there from the airport via rental car is a challenge. But he does reach his father’s hometown, and is welcomed instantly by the friendly, if eccentric, relatives.
As Drew confronts his father in an open casket, we then learn the truth of how close he was to him. It turns out, Drew experienced success in the corporate world and never made time for his father during this time. The only memories he is able to draw of his dad are little moments from his childhood. As the story maneuvers, we will realize that this will be the biggest bonding moment the two will ever have.
As for what is to be done with the father’s remains, there is a big disagreement. The folks in Elizabethtown wish for him to be buried there. But Drew demands cremation, as requested by his mother (Susan Sarandon), who isn’t a favorite amongst the townsfolk since she took him from his hometown and whisked him all the way to California. Plus, it is what he would’ve wanted.
In the midst of the mess regarding the remains, Drew manages to run into Claire on many occasions. The two shared an all night cell phone chat, and afterwards seem nothing short of inseparable. Although she admits to having a long-distance relationship to a guy who apparently doesn’t ever visit, the two work toward a romantic moment that just feels so right.
There are many numerous subplots in the film, and occasionally that’s not a very good sign. But Crowe knows how to give each segment equal space so that each aspect of the story can be appreciated. I haven’t even mentioned yet one of the best characters in the film, Drew’s cousin Jessie (Paul Schneider), who drums for a band called Ruckus, and that once played on the same bill as Lynyrd Skynyrd, even though they were billed even further down than the regular opening acts. The band reunites at the memorial service for a rendition of Free Bird that you simply have to see to believe.
And the heart of the journey arrives in the last segment of the movie, where Drew goes on a cross-country road trip, complete with a road map and a library of compilation CD’s given to him by Claire. This takes Drew, and us, to several unexpected areas. And Drew isn’t by himself, as the urn holding his father’s remains is buckled up in the passenger’s seat. If you love the music that Cameron Crowe has delivered in his past films, then you are in for a big treat in what is easily one of the most beautiful sequences in any recent movie.
And what awaits Drew at the end of his road trip? Just you wait and see…
Elizabethtown is hands down another superb Cameron Crowe achievement. It’s a one-of-a-kind journey that you won’t soon forget, filled with music that will stay in your mind and characters that will stay in your heart. Crowe has once again made a film that illustrates why he is one of our finest storytellers, and musical historians as well.
Paramount delivers a phenomenally crisp and sharp anamorphic presentation. The scenery of specific settings, particularly that of the actual Elizabethtown, is captured in amazing quality. Both day and night sequences play off tremendously well, and colors are a strong and vibrant bonus. It’s a presentation of superb all around detail.
Yet another amazing illustration of a Cameron Crowe film; the fact that such a high rating can be given to a dialogue-driven film says a lot. Had Crowe not been the director, there’s no question that the sound would be routine. The 5.1 mix boosts this music-filled journey to superior form. There’s barely a scene in the film without some form of music accompaniment, whether it’s a track from Tom Petty, U2, Jeff Buckley or simply the mellow acoustic score from Crowe’s wife and long time collaborator, Nancy Wilson. Dialogue is delivered as clear as a bell, in addition and several scenes manage to incorporate some surround sound effects through various set pieces.
Sadly, there aren’t many extras on the disc, which was unfortunate for me since I always look forward to a terrific Cameron Crowe commentary. Included are two brief featurettes; "Training Wheels" and "Meet the Crew", Two Extended Scenes, a Photo Gallery, 2 Theatrical Trailers and Bonus Previews.
Elizabethtown truly is the best place to find yourself. Leave it to Cameron Crowe to weave together another remarkable human drama filled with humor, romance and great music. This is definitely a trip worth taking.